There are so many good offerings playing off-Broadway this fall, you'll probably want to see more than one. It takes a lot of cojones to produce a new work in New York City, so all of these companies should be applauded for doing their part to support new literature on stage. But if you are going to see just one, choose wisely. You don't want to be the one who misses out on the hottest new play of the year.
We know, we know...all of these plays defy categorization and you really have to watch them to get a sense of what they're about. But if we were to categorize them, this is how we would do it:
Women or Nothing – Atlantic Theater Company (August 28-October 6)
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men) has been dabbling in the theater (specifically at the Atlantic) for the past few years with his evenings of one-act plays: Happy Hour, Almost an Evening, and Offices. Now he goes for the big Kahuna: a full-length play about two women so desperate to have a child that they are willing to sleep with *gasp* a man! Deborah Rush (Orange Is the New Black) stars as Dorene, the mother of one of the women.
Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love – The Flea Theater (November 1-December 8)
When you marry your high school sweetheart and your expectations fade to disappointments, is the rest of life just a slow march to the grave? Find out in Mallery Avidon's surreal comedy about a 28-year-old woman in a failing marriage whose quotidian life is turned upside down by the arrival of America's favorite identical twin fashionistas.
And Away We Go – Pearl Theatre Company (November 12-December 15)
This world premiere by Tony Award winner Terrence McNally (Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!) is a loving homage to the stage. Jumping o'er times, turning the accomplishment of many years into an hourglass, And Away We Go covers thousands of years of theater...and concludes that life on the boards hasn't really changed much in that time.
STARS ON STAGE
The Commons of Pensacola – Manhattan Theatre Club (October 22-December 28)
This show marks the playwriting debut of stage and film actress Amanda Peet (Barefoot in the Park). Judith (Blythe Danner) is forced to leave her life of Manhattan luxury and move into a 1-bedroom condo in Pensacola, Florida (horrors!) after her white-collar criminal husband is busted in a Wall Street scam. When her adult daughter Becca (Sarah Jessica Parker) shows up with her filmmaker boyfriend, things get a little tense for this big (un)happy family. Hey mom, could you pass the regret?
The Jacksonian – The New Group (October 25-December 15)
Ed Harris (Wrecks) and Bill Pullman (The Other Place) star in this tale of a respectable dentist's fall from grace in 1964 Mississippi. Set against a murder investigation and teeming with segregation-era racism, this play promises to be chock-full of drama with a capital D, performed by an all-star cast.
Domesticated – Lincoln Center Theater (October 10-January 5)
This world premiere from Tony Award winner Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park) stars Jeff Goldblum (Seminar) and Laurie Metcalf (The Other Place) as a politician and his wife who find their marriage on the brink in wake of a scandal. How does Norris come up with such highly fantastical and unlikely tales?
POLITICS AND SOCIETY
stop. reset. – Signature Theatre (August 20-September 29)
Print is dead. It's easy enough to write those three words when you work for a Web publication, but what if you own a dead-tree printing press? Regina Taylor (Crowns) offers this world premiere about the owner of Chicago's oldest African-American publishing house and her struggle to stay relevant in a rapidly changing industry. I hope the script will be available for Kindle.
One Night... – Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (October 16-December 7)
According to The New York Times, as many as 1 in 3 female military veterans have experience sexual assault. This shocking statistic is at the heart of Charles Fuller's world premiere play about one woman's struggle with sexual violence in the military.
Arguendo – Public Theater (September 10-October 6)
Best known for Gatz, the epic six-hour staging of The Great Gatsby, Elevator Repair Service returns to the Public for this world premiere. Arguendo is a verbatim yet playful staging of the oral arguments from the 1991 Supreme Court case Barnes v. Glen Theatre, in which a group of exotic dancers challenged the ban on public nudity. I wonder who's playing Scalia...
The Old Friends – Signature Theatre (August 20-September 29)
Rarely will one have the opportunity to see a world premiere by a dead playwright (at a certain point they just stop writing them). This is one of those occasions. Horton Foote, the late author of The Trip to Bountiful, penned this tale of feuding Texas farming families and their shifting loyalties. His daughter Hallie Foote (Dividing the Estate) stars along with Tony Award winner Betty Buckley (Cats), who will probably not be singing "Memory" in this one.
Luce – Lincoln Center Theater (October 5-November 17)
Juilliard grad JC Lee makes his professional playwriting debut with this story about two white American parents and their adopted African son, Luce. While outwardly a star student and athlete, Luce has some serious baggage, as discovered by a very opinionated teacher at his school. This show will appear in LCT's third-floor theater, the Claire Tow, which played host to last year's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Disgraced. Could this be the next winner?
Regular Singing – Public Theater (November 16-December 15)
National politics collide with family drama in this fourth and final installment of Richard Nelson's "The Apple Family" tetralogy, about the Apple family of Rhinebeck, New York. For those not familiar with the Apples, you can catch up starting October 22, when the Public stages the entire cycle in repertory. Click here to read TheaterMania's review of Sorry, the third Apple Family play.
Sunset Baby – Labyrinth Theater Company (November 6-December 8)
Kenyatta was a part of the black revolutionary movement in the '70s and '80s. He spent much of his life in prison as a result. Now he's out and attempting to reconnect with his adult daughter, Nina. But can they ever be a family again when Nina seems to reject much of what her father believes? This three-person drama from Dominique Morisseau (Detroit '67) had its world premiere in London last fall. Now it's coming home to the states.
All the Faces of the Moon – Public Theater (September 5-October 3)
Renowned monologuist Mike Daisey (The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs) returns to the Public Theater to attempt something unprecedented: Over the course of a lunar month, he will present a different story of New York City each night. That is 29 monologues in all. A free podcast will be available for fans unable to make it to every performance. Click here for a list of titles.
Analog.ue – St. Ann's Warehouse (November 22-December 21)
Monologuist Daniel Kitson returns to St. Ann's Warehouse following the 2012 critically acclaimed It's Always Right Now, Until It's Not. This world premiere is about a prerecorded story and will feature oodles of electricity-guzzling recording equipment. It's a bit like Krapp's Last Tape on crack.
HISTORY AND LEGEND
Mr. Burns, a Post-electric Play – Playwrights Horizons (August 23-October 6)
After the electric grid fails and western society as we know it ends, all that will be left of our culture is the "Cape Feare" episode of The Simpsons. Anne Washburn (The Communist Dracula Pageant) makes this the premise of her new post-apocalyptic play, which received its world premiere last year at DC's Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. The Simpsons may be "just a cartoon" to us, but to our progeny, it may very well be akin to the Bible or the Mahabharata.
Bronx Bombers – Primary Stages (September 17-October 19)
Die-hard Yankees fans won't want to miss this world premiere from the team that brought Lombardi to Broadway. Bronx Bombers is about some of the team's biggest stars including Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Derek Jeter. As any real sports fan knows, these superstar jocks would be quite the drama queens, so they'll fit well on the stage.
The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence – Playwrights Horizons (November 17-December 29)
Sherlock Holmes' BFF, Alexander Graham Bell's loyal engineer, the supercomputer and reigning Jeopardy champ...they're all Watson. Madeleine George explores these trusty workhorses alongside a modern-day tech geek (also named Watson) in this world premiere play. Sidekicks need love too.
The Machine – Park Avenue Armory (September 4-18)
Before there was Watson, there was Deep Blue. Developed by IBM and hailed as the most powerful super-computer on the planet, Deep Blue faced off against chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in a series of 1997 games. London's Donmar Warehouse brings this American premiere to the Drill Hall of the Armory, which will be transformed into an arena for the ultimate battle of man versus machine.
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS AND THEIR DISCONTENTS
Ashville – Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (August 21-September 28)
This world premiere from Lucy Thurber is part of a five-play cycle examining the life of her central character, Celia. The Hill Town Plays are being presented in their entirety as part of the first Theater: Village Festival, a massive collaboration between Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Axis Theatre, Cherry Lane Theatre, and The New Ohio Theatre. Play number two in the cycle, Ashville, is about sixteen-year-old Celia at a crossroads: Will she leave her dumpy western Massachusetts town and start a glamorous new adult life, or will she stay and marry her loser high-school boyfriend? Hmmmm...decision, decisions.
The Hatmaker's Wife – The Playwrights Realm (August 27-September 21)
If these walls could talk...well, in playwright Lauren Yee's world, they do. When a young woman moves in with her boyfriend she discovers that domestic life isn't all that spectacular. That is, until the walls of their shared home begin telling her a story about a hat maker and his wife. This New York premiere is directed by Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812), so you know the design will be stunning.
Small Engine Repair – MCC (October 30-December 8)
Three high school buddies, now middle-aged, meet up in a dirty New Hampshire repair shop to reminisce about their glory days. It's another bro-nostalgia play, right? Wrong. Playwright John Pollono (who stars as shop owner Frank) has created a psychological thriller, brimming with intrigue and suspense.
The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters – Playwrights Horizons (October 18-December 1)
Marlane Meyer (The Chemistry of Change) offers a world premiere romantic comedy about the blinding power of belief. Aubrey is a determined romantic in love with Calvin, a drunken womanizer. This ought to turn out well.